A bar of soap, a roll of toilet paper, a foam pillow, sheets, a plate: this is all that the prisoners Sr. Livia meets have. Looking at an old phone, she said, “Here’s a message: a woman in despair because she doesn’t know how to send things to her husband, who was arrested the other day.” She continues: “They may even be extremely wealthy people, but once they are arrested and sent to the nearest prison, all they have is the clothes they wear and the kit. from jail”. And that’s where she comes in: Sr. Livia Ciaramella, head of rehabilitation programs at San Donato prison in Pescara, Italy. She was born in the Abruzzo region and is a nun of the Congregation of the Daughters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, founded by Mother Eugenia Ravasco. After serving as a missionary in Ivory Coast, in 2006 Sr. Livia was invited to lead the Eucharistic celebration by the then prison chaplain, Fr. Marco Pagniello, now Director of Caritas Italy.
She has not abandoned the inmates since. “The most difficult moment, she says, is when they arrive: the feeling of prison, when they go from home-cooked food to prison food, when they have nothing left; losing the opportunity to talk to them, to listen to them at this very delicate moment, could have irreversible consequences”.
His constant listening and his gaze of unconditional love point to an even greater Love. In fact, there are many spiritual initiatives for inmates. In addition to the Eucharistic celebration and the possibility of going to confession with the chaplain, there are special occasions during the year that Sr. Livia’s creativity has transformed into intense moments of prayer. “In May, I put a calendar in each section of the prison. The prisoners register and I go to their cells to pray the Rosary: the day before yesterday, I prayed in seven different cells. I arrive, carrying a statue of Our Lady of Fatima, and we all pray together”.
But her work is multiple: Sr. Livia gets up at 5 am. After the prayer, she fetches snacks for the inmates which are provided by generous benefactors. Then she goes to the prison where she leads different workshops every day so that the inmates can use their manual skills, even making small handmade objects that will be sold in charity markets organized by Sr. Livia. Proceeds from sales are used to buy needed items for new arrivals. Everything is thought out so that the prisoners do not lose their dignity. “I meet the person”, says Sr. Livia, “but in meeting the person, I bring Jesus, so that they feel loved and not judged”.
The experience has now given her a good understanding of the laws of the prison system, and Sr. Livia uses them to empower inmates to experience true humanity, for such great love cannot remain imprisoned within prison walls. There are, in fact, various initiatives that the “nun of Ravasco” – as the members of her Congregation are often called – organized with prisoners even outside the prison. “In accordance with article 21, in collaboration with Unitalsi, we have sometimes taken young people to do community service with the sick in Pompeii or Loreto. Their tasks were to push patients’ wheelchairs and help them with anything they needed.
She pays particular attention to the Eucharistic celebration, which is always prepared with great care: “In accordance with article 17, on special occasions such as Christmas and Easter, when Bishop Tommaso Valentinetti of Pescara-Penne comes to celebrate, I invites young people to play various musical instruments, to make the Mass even more beautiful: we have a liturgical group and every Sunday we already know who will read and be in charge of the different ministries”.
There are many stories of suffering, many broken families who find an anchor of salvation in this nun. And it brings many fruits in different ways. Among them is the most beautiful of all: “Sometimes people ask me to teach them how to pray, it is often the question-symptom that prompts me to ask if they are baptized. Sometimes they are not. And then I create personalized preparation programs, in addition to the Saturday catechism, so that they can receive the sacraments of Christian initiation”.
With the prison named after Saint Donato, Sr. Livia even managed to get the saint into the prison. In fact, in 2018 the urn containing the relics of the saint arrived from Castiglione Messer Raimondo (province of Teramo, Italy) and was brought inside the prison for a whole day of prayer and a Eucharistic celebration.
Sr. Livia’s concern obviously extends to what happens after the prisoners are released from prison. This is why it is in constant collaboration with the Comunità educanti con i carcerati (Educative Communities of Prisoners), a project led by the Association “Communauté Pape Jean XXIII”, which is dedicated to the reintegration of prisoners. “When they come out of prison, they have to be stronger than before, otherwise prison reduces to just keeping people inside.”